Trump ushers in a new age of resistance
Were Paul Revere and William Dawes heroes or criminals when they warned the residents of Concord and Lexington in April of 1775 that the British were marching?
All across the nation, the aging fleet of nuclear power stations are now reaching the end of their useful lives, and need to be retired and decommissioned, an expensive process exacerbated by the lack of a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste.
Here in Rhode Island, the energy choices we make will be tired to our future economic prosperity and quality of life.
PROVIDENCE – The juxtaposition of visuals has always had a strong place in American protest politics. Witness the latest episode by Greenpeace in hoisting a banner on a construction crane that said, “Resist,” near the White House.
The wearing of knitted pink hats with ears, described as “pussy hats,” emerged as an iconic statement by marchers who participated in the Women’s March on Jan. 21. Photographs of marchers in cities across the nation and the world captured a preponderance of pink hats amidst the sea of people in the streets. The “pussy hat” will be featured on the Feb. 8 Time magazine cover.
It is a tradition of resistance that dates back to the American Revolutionary War, when women took to making homespun clothing rather than buy British goods. Spinning gatherings were organized under the aegis of the Daughters of Liberty.
The production of homespun clothing was also central to Gandhi’s efforts in India to boycott British goods in the 1930s. So, too, was the tactic of non-violent civil disobedience, which became a trademark of the civil rights movement here in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, and later, in the 1970s, with the anti-nuclear movement.
Connecting the visual with the messaging has always been an important component of political movements, advertising and propaganda. The medium is the massage, as Marshall McLuhan posited in a visual collage of his ideas with collaborator Quentin Fiore.
Changing hearts and minds
Which gets us back to “ugh,” the response by Alan Tear’s to the tweet by Geoff Teehan and the clever, side-by-side juxtaposition of Nutella with its apparent ingredients. [See Part One, “Facts, lies, fiats, tweets and science.”]
Does it offer new possibilities for visual content in opposition to the Trump administration’s efforts to control the news flow?
• Was there a way for federal employees to respond visually, labeling the contents of future press releases issued and approved by the Trump team, in an unofficial, unauthorized manner? Such as: how much fact, how much baloney, how much propaganda, how much superstition, how much evidence-based fact, and how much gaslighting?
• And, in terms of the news, why not have a transparent jar of contents about corporate ownership of each TV and radio network? And, with it, a transparent jar breaking down the content of paid advertisers for each cable news show and website?
But, much like the visual content of graphic warning labels on cigarettes, the lust for the addictive qualities of sugary Nutella and salty Lay’s potato chips could easily overpower the rational and analytical approach of such new visual content design apps.
The reality, as poet Robert Bly once told me in an interview, is this: “Americans like to be lied to. We are still living in a Doris Day movie in which everything we do works out.”
We hold these lies to be self-evident
The marketing of prescription painkillers has been built on an alluring lie: take this and it will reduce your pain and make you feel better. In the short term, it has often proven effective; but in the long term, opioids mask the symptoms of chronic pain, and instead, have created a culture of dependency, despondency and addiction, and with it, an epidemic of overdose deaths, without ever addressing the root causes of the pain.
Withdrawal from opioids, in turn, only increases the symptoms of pain and the cravings.
In attempts to explain the phenomenon of the Trump victory in November, some political scientists have sought to draw a connection between those states and communities most ravaged by the epidemic of substance use, overdose deaths and economic downturn.
As Slate recently reported, Shannon Monnat, a rural sociologist and demographer at Penn State, found when she analyzed voting data in her recent study, entitled, “Deaths of Despair and Support for Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election,” there was a relationship.
According to Monnat’s analysis, Trump’s margins, when compared to Mitt Romney’s results in 2012, were highest in counties with higher than average drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates.
Monnat wrote: “Recent analyses suggest a relationship between Trump support and opiate overdoses in key states and provide potential explanations for why Trump received so much support in America’s new post-industrial ‘heroin beltway.’”
Slate also reported the anecdotal observations of photojournalist Chris Arnade, who has created a “Faces of Addiction” series of photographs. Arnade said he “fell into” writing about Trump supporters while documenting addiction.
“Wherever I see hope exiting,” Arnade tweeted, as reported by Slate, “I see Trump and drugs entering.”
Before reading Tear’s retweet, I had conjured up the idea of borrowing the concept of noisemakers, which are revved up every time the name of Haman was mentioned in retelling the story of The Book of Esther, as part of the annual celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim. [Haman had developed a plan to kill all the Jews, only to be foiled by Esther.]
Imagine, I asked a friend, if the White House press corps had its own version of a noisemaker to whirl in the air every time Stephen Bannon, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway or President Trump offered an alternative version of reality? Clang clang clang clang.
The friend laughed, saying it was too Jewish, and prudently suggested that I go back to the drawing board.
Of course, there is another alternative to a purveyor of alternative facts: simply stop interviewing Kellyanne Conway or reporting on what she says, and not give her airtime.
On Jan. 27, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump issued a statement in which he inexplicably failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism; Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the omission was intentional because the statement was meant to be “inclusive.” Really?
On that same day, Trump issued an executive order that indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days, and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen [but none where Trump has business dealings] – refugees or otherwise, from entering the U.S. for 90 days.
The order unleashed chaos on the immigration system and in airports around the world, prompting protests and emergency legal action. The management of the executive order was further complicated by the forced resignation of top State Department officials orchestrated by Trump.
Mo Farrah, British gold medal winner, who was born in Somalia, issued the statement, saying: On Jan. 1 of this year, Her Majesty the Queen made me a Knight of the Realm. On Jan. 27, Donald Trumps seems to have made me an alien.
Maybe a noisemaker is not too Jewish a strategy after all.
Transparency, lies and intent
The New York Times is now calling a lie a lie, and footnoting its stories for accuracy. As report Dan Barry began his Jan. 25 story in The New York Times, saying: “Words matter.”
The assertion by Trump that the reason he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by some 3 million votes was, according to Barry, “akin to saying that millions of unicorns also voted illegally.”
Barry continued: “But such a baseless statement by a president challenges the news media to find the precise words to describe it.”
Let’s be clear: The issue is not about voter registration lists that are not up-to-date, or, for that matter, voter fraud, but organized voter suppression efforts aimed at depressing poor and minority voter turnout.
The anecdotal story told by Trump about the golfer Bernard Langer being denied the opportunity to vote in Florida is, once again, wildly inaccurate hyperbole.
More worrisome is a quote from White House advisor Bannon, in a 2013 interview with The Daily Beast, when he was executive chairman of Breitbart News. It provides a dark filter through which to see the intent of Trump’s actions during his first week in office.
“I’m a Leninist,” Bannon said. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
On Jan. 28, Bannon was elevated to the National Security Council in an executive order signed by Trump.
A dangerous moment
If we are to believe the intent voiced by Bannon in 2013, we are entering a unique and dangerous moment in American history, when the elected President of the United States and his administration appear to be seeking the total disruption of the rule of law and American democracy and the dismantlement of 230 years of constitutional government, all under the guise of making America great again.
In turn, tens of thousands of Americans are rising up in resistance, often in spontaneous protests, to the policies and executive directives of the new administration.
The questions are: what do people mean when they talk about resistance? How willing are elected officials to speak up and to take action?
And, for reporters and editors, how does that change the way they cover the news?
Were Paul Revere and William Dawes heroes or criminals when they warned the citizens of Concord and Lexington in April of 1775 that the British were marching to seize their arms?
What does it mean to stand up and say no? What are the consequences of taking actions?
The willingness to join a protest march, to stand up to bullies in a community, to say no, to blow the whistle in the workplace, to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience, are all actions that carry with it different levels of risk.
Expressing outrage and signing a petition on Twitter or on Facebook is different than showing up in person at a demonstration or a protest march.
Participating in a protest march is different than being willing to commit civil disobedience and be arrested.
Being willing to say no in the workplace, at the risk of being fired, or walking away from the job, ratchets up the risks, for both the individual and their families.
Here is a story, from my own personal reporting history, with some lessons learned about “successful” resistance – as well as the risks and consequences.
On May 1, 1977, I was one of 1,414 people arrested at the Clamshell Alliance occupation at the building site of the Seabrook nuclear power plant. I was arrested by a New Hampshire state trooper and put on a National Guard truck, then transported to the Portsmouth armory, even though I was a member of the news media, the managing editor of The Valley Advocate in Amherst, Mass.
It had been a long, strange arrest process. As part of the first wave of arrests, police waded into the crowd and targeted members of the new media. I found myself, along with John Kifner from The New York Times and Paul Langer from The Boston Globe, retreating from the long arm of law enforcement, which were actively targeting anyone with a camera, it seemed. [See image above.]
In advance of the arrests, then N.H. Gov. Meldrim Thomson, traveled by helicopter onto the occupation site and engaged in a spontaneous dialogue with Elizabeth Boardman, mother of six and spokeswoman, non-violent trainer and negotiator for the Clamshell Alliance.
It was a most revealing encounter. Two weeks before, Thomson had called the planned occupation “the destructive doctrine of revolutionaries and communists. Confrontation is a vital part of their plan,” he had claimed, with his word dutifully reported word-for-word by The Union-Leader daily newspaper. “Once they legally occupy the site, they do not plan to leave alive…”
My reporting, published in The Valley Advocate, captured that decisive encounter between Boardman and Thomson.
“When Gov. Thomson flew onto the site in his helicopter to personally order the state police to commence arresting the occupiers Sunday afternoon, there was Elizabeth Boardman, spokesperson and negotiator for the occupiers, sending a “warm and urgent” message to request a personal meeting with the governor.
Nose to nose with Thomson as the press crushed in around them, her voice strong and calm, Boardman politely informed the governor that if he was truly interested in the desires of the people of New Hampshire, he would have listened to the residents of Seabrook who voted against constructing the nuclear reactor in a referendum.
Thomson retreated to the only defense he seemed to have, that as governor, he was sworn to uphold the laws of New Hampshire, and that these occupiers were committing criminal trespass. “In my judgment,” he concluded, “and certainly in the judgment of the majority of the people in the state of New Hampshire, I disagree. I’m the governor of the state. I’m in charge.”
Col. Paul Doyon, commander of the N.H. State Police, stepped in next. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the prison guard in the film, “Cool Hand Luke,” wearing reflective sunglasses, and he might well have uttered the classic line from the movie, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
“I don’t come out here to be a diplomat,” he began. “We’ve been here since Friday. We’re all Americans, living up to our own personal sense of duty. It would be my wish that you leave the occupation site. You have fulfilled your goals. You have dominated the front pages, along with the tube and the airwaves. We would like to encourage you to call it a weekend… Let’s call an end to Seabrook 1977,” Doyon continued, “rather than see us engaged in an arrest assignment. We have other pressing responsibilities.”
“Our purpose,” Boardman responded in a [resolute] voice, “was not simply to draw attention to the occupation and capture the media’s attention, but to stop all construction on the proposed nuclear plant at Seabrook.”
“The world has felt the overall impact of your presence,” Doyon argued back. “And people who remain will become convicted of a misdemeanor. Most of you are ‘non-criminal’ people. “I’d be sorry to see that happen.”
“We’re all mutually sorry,” Boardman responded.
Although the arrests began on in the early afternoon, the authorities soon ran out of school buses to transport the prisoners as well as places to put the prisoners.
I was arrested well after midnight, along a number of protesters, then spent the night in the back of National Guard truck in the Portsmouth armory parking lot, with some 23 others.
At every turn, the numbers of protesters overwhelmed the authorities, as did their steadfast adherence to non-violent training. For the next two weeks, the majority of the protesters who were arrested refused to accept bail conditions, being kept en masse in National Guard armories across the state.
Finally, after two weeks, N.H. authorities released everyone on their own recognizance, overwhelmed. Despite the exaggerated claims by Thomson, everyone left the occupation site and the armories alive. The trials for criminal trespass began in the late fall of 1977.
Truth and consequences
There were consequences to my decision to stay onsite with the occupiers and report what happened, beyond getting arrested. [I had accepted release on personal recognizance when I was finally brought before a judge on late Monday afternoon, so I could write my story.]
My own trespassing charges, along with the rest of the news media who had been arrested at Seabrook, were thrown out following a trial in May of 1977.
Yet the publishers of The Valley Advocate refused to provide access to the newspaper’s lawyer for my legal representation. They then initially balked at paying my lawyer’s legal fees, until the law firm threatened to go public.
Indeed, after I was arrested, the publishers had made plans to fire me, according to someone who had been offered my job. The publishers then changed their minds, in large part because I co-authored a national story for New Times, “Mahatma Gandhi goes to Seabrook.”
Clogging the system
After a few show trials, the actual expense of having to try more than 1,000 prisoners wore down the system, and the state of New Hampshire, in the spring of 1979, dismissed all remaining charges.
It many ways the 1977 occupation at Seabrook, which was actually the third such occupation, was the starting point of a national “No Nukes” movement, one of the more successful citizen movements in the 1970s in America.
It also led to sold-out performances at Madison Square Garden of leading rock musicians, under the guise of Musicians United for Safe Energy, or MUSE, in the fall of 1979. [But, it also proved that rock ‘n’ roll could not, by itself, save the world.]
The No Nukes movement was also a failure, in some ways: it did not stop the Seabrook nuclear power station from being completed and then operating; it did not stop the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant from being built and going into operation.
Lessons in resistance
The birth of the anti-nuclear resistance in America began in 1974, when Samuel Lovejoy loosened the guide-wires to a weather tower on the Montague Plains in Massachusetts, the planned site of twin nuclear reactors to be constructed by Northeast Utilities.
Lovejoy then hitchhiked a ride with two local cops to the local police station and announced that he had committed an act of civil disobedience, he could not tell a lie, with the intent to put nuclear power on trial. [Lovejoy had committed the act on Washington’s Birthday.]
The trial of Lovejoy, documented in the film, “Lovejoy’s Nuclear War,” ended up with the case being dismissed on a technicality: the utility had brought the wrong charges against him in terms of trying to gin up the felony for destruction of personal property.
In the end, the Montague nuclear power station was never built. It did not fall victim to organized non-violent protests; it fell because of an active intervention campaign before the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Council, coordinated by the law firm of Lesser, Newman, Souweine and Sibbison, and led by Wendy Sibbison.
In preparing for hearings on the nuclear plant, the Council agreed to hold joint hearings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There were to be three such hearings: one on safety, one on economic need, and a third on transmission lines.
In its certainty that the hearings would prove to be a virtual rubber stamp, for its preparations for the documentation on economic need, Northeast Utilities turned to the engineering firm Stone & Webster, who in turn assigned a college summer intern to prepare the economic arguments. It turned out the economic arguments were poorly prepared and in error.
So, the issue came down to whether or not Northeast Utilities would be allowed to proceed with the first phase of the hearings, on safety, and postpone the next two hearings to a later date, to correct the erroneous economic data.
The Energy Facilities Siting Council voted 2-1 against a delay, with Mary Beth Gentleman, an attorney, casting the deciding vote.
The result: Northeast Utilities chose to abandon plans to build the plant, announcing its decision in late 1980, for economic reasons.
Back to the future
Here in Rhode Island, the efforts to defeat the planned Invenergy power plant in Burrillville have included both protests and legal interventions before the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board.
The most current point of contention is the effort by Invenergy to secure a source of cooling water for the $700 million power plant proposed to be built in Burrillville. The company, after been turned down by both Burrillville and Woonsocket, has now contracted with Johnston to buy some 15,000 to 20,000 gallons a day it needs to operate the plant.
Whether or not Providence will intervene legally in an attempt to prevent the sale of the water by Johnston, which gets its water from the Scituate Reservoir, controlled by the Providence Water Supply Board, in now on the table, expected to be heard by Providence City Council in a hearing this week.
If there is to be a lesson learned from the history of the No Nukes movement, and indeed from the successful intervention to get a court order to halt the executive orders on immigration signed by President Donald Trump, it is that a strong legal team is needed to succeed as well as staging vocal protests. And, good reporting, too.